Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Once in a Blue Moon

Football (or soccer if you'd prefer) is not generally considered to be a game of momentum. While a team can build an element of sustained pressure, the counter attack and long ball are equally viable options and can be used to devastating effect. Contrast this to, say, American Football or Rugby where teams drive and battle for field position and you will see my point.

That being said, one couldn't help but notice a potentially significant shift in momentum last night in Manchester, not in a single game, but in an entire sport. It is of course hyperbole to suggest that City will surpass local rivals United in this or future seasons but last night's game evidenced that, at least, this could happen. The state of the two clubs finances could not be much different with City owner Sheikh Mansour continuing to plow millions into the Blue side of the city while the Red side face the prospect of their owners making a cash withdrawal.

The case is perfectly illustrated by the Tevez saga, after the Argentinian bagged both goals in City's 2-1 win tonight. The natural argument raging across the forums is Tevez v Berbatov but with Ronaldo gone and no other big name arrivals in the summer the real argument in Tevez v Owen (United's replacement for Tevez in the summer). One has to feel that in days gone by, if Ferguson wanted to Tevez this summer the board would have paid up the £25m to maintain at least 3 legs of United's deadly foursome from last year's successful campaign. But no, Ferguson - at least in hindsight - was forced to choose Berbatov over Tevez and whether this was right or not it is a decision that he is not used to taking. Mancini on the other hand is unlikely to have to make such choices and while the transfer activity has been slow so far, one feels City will be able to bring in at least one more difference maker before we reach February.

City currently lie 5th, level on points with Spurs and well placed to capture a Champions League spot. This, along with potential success in the Carling Cup and perhaps the FA Cup too could give Mancini an even sturdier platform from where to launch transfer raids across Europe and we could see City's squad reformed once again before turning their attention to the top of the league next year.

Even if the the unthinkable happened and City challenged and indeed won a title in the next couple of years, this would not in itself be all that significant for United's legacy. The Reds have won 11 of the 17 Premier League titles along with 2 Champions League crowns and domestic cup success, far eclipsing the accomplishments of old rivals Liverpool and new challengers like the once free spending Chelsea. Note however, the achievements of the clubs below:

Club A: 12 league titles, 9 FA Cups
Club B: 1 league title (1955), 3 FA Cups

Club C: 18 league titles, 11 FA Cups
Club D: 2 league titles (last in 1968), 4 FA Cups

Clubs A and B are Arsenal and Chelsea before Roman Abramovich took control of the club in 2003 while clubs C and D are United and City at present day. Since the takeover Chelsea have added two league titles, two FA cups and reached the Champions League final while Arsenal have a single FA Cup and won the league in the year Abramovich bought Chelsea (before his spending kicked in). The task at hand for Chelsea was not quite as large as that facing City but consider that Arsenal's finances have been solid in this period even if not on the level's on their West London rivals. If United are forced into a position where purchases are made on the cheap then they could be joining one of their other old rivals - Liverpool - at the wrong end of the top 4.


David said...

As a utd supporter for a long time, the numbers don't look good. Utd won a 3rd league title, world club championship and reached the champions league final, so they pretty much earned as much prize money and tv revenue as they possibly could. But Utd still only made a 40mil profit last year after the ronaldo sale which is in fact a 40mil loss if you exclude the sale of ur MVP. This is mainly due to the ridiculous 70 mill interest bill they have to fork out each. I don't want to imagine what will happen when they start paying off the capital portion of their 700mil debt. Utd are so hugely in debt which apparently is only their as a result of the takeover. Americans really are philistines who would trade anything for money, ANYTHING!

Interestingly and unfortunately, in my last two versions of Football Manager, both times United have gone bankrupt after 15 years or so cos they have such massive debt from the start. I think the same will happen in real life unless UEFA or the FA take steps to protect clubs from themselves and ignorant prats like the Glazer Family. Oh well, come on Nottingham Forest I suppose then.

Chris Glover said...

I am not a Utd fan but I actually thought Glazer would be a good owner. He has done a solid job in Tampa Bay tuning round one of the worst franchises into one of the better teams around (present season excluded).

Raising debt to pay for a purchase is common and indeed fuels the majority of M&A in the Market (see Kraft's takeover of Cadbury - interesting link there as Kraft's owner also owns an NFL team and is often rumoured as a suitor for Liverpool).

However my concern for united is that a football club is not an ordinary business. Your expenses (wages) are rising much quicker than revenues (ticket sales) and without a massive price rise you can't do much about it as the labour Market is distorted by teams like Chelsea, City and Madrid who are bankrolled to the point that high wages are immaterial for them. I think Glazer misunderstood this somewhat as in the NFL you are protected by the cap and no alternative leagues exist.

Utd are a major brand around the world but not to the point where growth their alone can justify the increasing costs seen at the club.

I sympathise with utd fans because their growth was organic rather than a wealthy owner arriving one day so they more of a sense of earning their success. That said, that success was fuelled by funding recieved by listing on the stock exchange thus exposing themself to takeovers.

While many complain about Glazer being American, nit understanding football etc I can't but wonder what their views would be if it was Warren Buffett plowing $1bn into the club - his nationality would matter less I suspect.

auburn.tigers2011 said...

Chris and others, what are your thoughts on soccer having some kind of salary cap?

To me that is whats wrong with baseball in America (besides PEDs or course). I hate that the Yankees have all the money in the world and can buy whoever they want.

I would be interested to hear some thoughts on this.

Andrew said...

In the MLS there is a salary cap. Its really very low too, which makes it difficult for us to lure/keep good young talent to sign in the states as opposed to Europe.

The cap poses some interesting issues though. The thing that worries me with the cap is what happens when your youth players start to become stars. Do you drop other squad players to pay for the increased salary demands? Do you sell off your youth when they want bigger wages?

The players union and the MLS are currently in talks over the collective bargaining agreement and the salary cap is part of that discussion. The players get shit for wages here (I made more last year than about half of the players on the Seattle Sounders, my hometown team).

The cap is frustrating because teams that have the ability to generate revenues can't really use their money effectively. Sure, we can hire the best coaches, staff and buy the best grounds, but I'd rather be able to upgrade a few positions on the pitch. At the same time, though, I can see how teams that don't have the fanbase like New York or San Jose could get stuck in ruts of not contending. They wouldn't be able to keep up with teams like LA Galaxy who have lots of revenues and could afford to bring in more and better players.

For a fledgeling league like MLS, I think a salary cap is a good thing, though they need to raise it quite a bit. For leagues that are well-established I don't see what good implementing a salary cap would do. Now if there were some way to get those transfer fees under control...

David said...

@chris, true, I'm not a massive fan of the US, except for their footballers. Some of them can get it right though (i.e. Randy Lerner)

The devil's advocate in me says this is maybe just the next evolution of the premier league. Maybe united have won enough for now, you have to feel for clubs with history like Everton, Villa, City, Newcastle, Sunderland (and Leeds and Forest, the list goes on, oh and Liverpool, my bad) who I doubt even remember what a trophy looks like. While it might be sad what may happen to utd, especially in a world without SAF, it makes the game interesting to watch and gives us all real food for thought. It's the circle of life. . . *cue the music, and a baboon on rock raising up a football to the sunlight*